Intel's next-gen NUC has the potential to be a PC game changer

Intel's next-gen NUC has the potential to be a PC game changer

Summary: I firmly believe that the people haven't fallen out of love with the PC, but instead they've grown bored of the form-factors on offer. It seems that Intel is now ready to transform the NUC from a science experiment into a mainstream product.

TOPICS: Hardware

I firmly believe that the people haven't fallen out of love with the PC, but instead they've grown bored of the form-factors on offer. While Smartphones, tablets, and even notebook systems have grown lighter and thinner, desktop PCs are still big hulking boxes that take up lots of desk space.

See alsoWhat the post-PC PC of 2025 will be like

At one time it looked like the all-in-one, which combines the PC into the display, might take over as the leading for factor, but outside of the Mac ecosystem, all-in-one systems are pretty thin on the ground.

Enter the NUC, of "Next Unit of Computing." The NUC is a series of small form factor PC designed by Intel. The first NUC, which was based on the Sandy Bridge Celeron CPU, was released early last year and since then we've seen a second generation system based on the Ivy Bridge Core i3 and Core i5 processors, and a third generation based on the Haswell architecture. The design is a cross between Apple's Mac mini and the Raspberry Pi.

Now, according to tech site FanlessTech, the next-generation systems based on Broadwell processors are in the pipeline for later this year. The leaked roadmaps (which Intel has declined to comment on) outline two different architectures:

Rock Canyon (aimed at the mainstream)

  • Next gen CPU/Graphics performance:
  • Intel Core i3/i5 Processor
  • Power the big screen via miniHDMI
  • 4k and triple display support via miniDP
  • M.2 SSD & 2.5” SSD/HDD drive options
  • USB 3.0 ports for faster data transfers
  • Headphones/headset ready (audio jack)
  • Wireless built-in (wi-fi and Bluetooth)
  • HTPC remote control ready (IR sensor)
  • Replaceable lids for NFC, Wireless Charging

Maple Canyon (aimed at professional users)

  • Next gen CPU/Graphics/Turbo performance
  • Remote manageability and security with
  • Intel vPro Technology & TPM hardware
  • 4k and triple display support via 2x miniDP
  • M.2 SSD and 2.5” SSD/HDD drive options
  • Comprehensive I/O with audio and USB 3.0
  • Replaceable lids for NFC

While the leaked roadmap doesn't fill in all the blanks – specifically price and overall design – it does make it quite clear that Intel is serious about the NUC. In fact, it seems so serious that it plans to include business-oriented features such as vPro security and remote access technology and TPM. The inclusion of support for NFC and wireless charging are nice touches and expand what might be possible with the next-generation NUC.

What this next-generation of NUC clearly does it make the device far more user-friendly and user-accessible that previous devices, and turns the NUC from an interesting science project into a real-world tool.

The biggest weakness of the NUC is the lack of any serious GPU horsepower. While I expect built-in support for DirectX 11.1+, OpenGL 4.1, OpenCL 1.x, Intel Quick Sync Video technology, MPEG/JPEG decode acceleration, and 4K UltraHD display resolution output, serious gaming (or for that matter anything else that puts a heavy workload on the GPU) will be out.

Intel is taking the first steps towards the post-PC PC of 2025 I wrote about the other day.

Topic: Hardware

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  • If you want serious gaming in this form factor...

    Intel isn't the solution.

    Gigabyte has a model with an AMD quad-core APU and discrete graphics, along with support for an mSATA SSD and a 2.5" drive.
    • Wait what?

      You mean my nVidia Titan won't fit inside this new system? That's lame.
      • What about my FPGA Dev card?

        The one with the PCI connector, shaped to fit inside a conventional PC? It sure as hell won't fit in my Mac - that's why I keep a PC.
    • Good Form factor especially if there are options...

      Expansion via a second slice that stacks or goes horizontal would be killer.

      Note: its not a new or revolutionary concept. Convergent Technologies built something similar in the 80s - 90s called NGen which was OEMed by several computer manufacturers. Later bought buy Burroughs/Unisys and their reverse Midas touch killed it after sucking the life out of it.
      • Unisys

        My Dad worked at Unisys in the 80s (PM'd weather satellite projects). He has this strange ix based, modular components computer that you just added pieces on as you needed. I'm wondering if this is what you are referring to.
        • yep,

          The NGen series ran its own OS CTOS (Convergent Technology Operating System) or OEMs version BTOS etc. Not sure it was ix based though.

          The image

          Shows two modules connected. On the left is the CPU slice, on the right is a HD/floppy slice with monitor sitting on top. The expansion cover on the right was removable and you could add other slices (tape, disk, special communications modules, etc.) up to about three feet in length for the bus.
          • these computers were customized, ruggedized, and Tempestized

            Sold to the Gov alphabet soup agencies (FBI, NSA, CIA, DIA ...) military and coast guard.
            One version was ruggedized and fitted with satellite communications gear for use in some desert somewhere :-) Hauled on the back of a jeep and in operation within 3 minutes via sat link.

            Another used fiber optics communications cables rather than wired Ethernet to prevent RF eavesdropping and were encased in shielding including the monitor screen.

            There wasn't much you couldn't do with it given the array of custom modules and software available for it.
      • NGen was ahead of its time

        I do remember the NGen.
        Running Unix and Progress database apps, it was a SCREAMER!
        A shame Burroughs/Unisys killed it.
        But then, they were on the way out, despite some pretty impressive hardware and operating systems of their own.
        • uh huh

          Unisys is still hanging on but a classic example of having the technology doesn't translate into success. They still make some top notch systems but elude notice.
  • The form factor is great

    but the advantage of those "big, bulky" desktops is that they can easily, and inexpensively(?) be upgraded with better performing cards or added features like RAID, internal 7.1 Sound, TV tuners, ect.

    This would make for a nice replacement for my Media Center with the addition of an external sound card ( I use Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro currently for the fiber optic out to my surround sound system) and switching to the external WinTV-HVR-950Q for the tuner.

    It definitely need looking into.
    • But

      for businesses or the average user who never upgrades their PC, the lack of internal exandability isn't a problem. With USB3 and Thunderbolt, it would make a great PC for the semi-pro as well.

      What I didn't find in the spec was Ethernet. It only mentions Wi-Fi. The previous generation had models with and without.

      Given how bad Wi-Fi is in my house, I'd want a version with Gigabit Ethernet.
      • Good catch

        I assumed that like the $279 model at Best Buy, It had one, but you're right it only lists "Wi-Fi".

        I agree. Even though I have no real issue with my current setup running most everything through Wi-Fi ( a necessity at the moment), I would still like to have wired as Recorded TV on the server the only thing doesn't stream that great through it, and a Gigabit connection clears that up.

        I hate to upgrade the setup and to lose that option permanently.
      • Just use a USB GigE adapter

        Problem solved if you need a wired GigE connection.
  • soldered CPU, blah!

    wish they would stop doing that! however, I just purchased a neat little NUC from with a newer i3... for my HDTV use. $280 for it, 120gb SSD and 4GB ram.. hard to beat! Has both HDMI and Displayport/thunderbolt. Very f..... cool!
    • If you don't want a soldered CPU, you won't like future Intel

      Intel already stated that they are going the way of soldered CPU's after Haswell, so you'll have less choice for motherboard form factor + CPU options.
  • Wasting your words...

    Hey're wasting your words. People that read ZDnet are not where the large market share is for computing devices--computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. They are people not like me and the others you read your stuff but rather like my wife and daughter--who have no idea what ZDNet is.

    Both are very bright but they want what amounts to a smart toaster for their computing devices. If iTunes was available on Chromebooks, they would own Chromebooks rather than Macbook Air computers. And I'm the one who has to manage those computers.

    Actually, I've been following the Chromebook market and expect to buy one in the near future to use as a third computer and a traveling computer. I'm waiting for a slightly nicer one than is currently offered--I want the display from the HP11 chromebook, a Haswell processor, 4GB of RAM, an SD card slot, and Bluetooth. Right now, it's almost impossible to find 4GB and all the new Chromebooks have soldered-in RAM.
    • Over Specification

      You don't need those specifications on a chromebook, the whole point of the device is off loading CPU task while providing a clean GUI to interact with the web.
  • I disagree

    Are you kidding? At my last company, when it came time to refresh 75 desktop PCs, I went with the All-In-One HP Compaq 6000 Pro. With wireless keyboard and mouse, the only cables needed to be plugged in at the user's desktop were the power cord and Ethernet patch cable. That's it!

    Monitors are CHEAP these days. I used to sell computers BACK IN THE DAY, and remember when 20" TUBE monitors cost $2k. For a regular productivity user (for whom the NUC is best targeted for), a 1080p, 20" monitor is about $100? Add the NUC. Add desktop speakers (because no user ever is satisfied with the sound that comes from the CPU). Now you have a mess of cables all over your desk. Some monitors with VESA mounts allow the CPU to be bolted to the back of the monitor to tidy things up a bit. What does that sound like? AN ALL-IN-ONE PC!

    All-in-ones have decent sound through their built-in speakers. They can be moved more easily. Take up even less of an office user's desk space. And from my perspective, they are far faster to deploy! Since corporations refresh desktops anywhere from 3-5 years, it's worth tossing a separate monitor and getting an all-in-one, just to enjoy all the advantages of the configuration. Corporate IT does not replace video cards on PCs designed to run Office all day. At best, we upgrade the ram, and maybe storage if we didn't assess storage needs up front properly. But most of us will get an all-in-one with enough ram and storage to last 5 years, and then toss that baby to replace it with an all new model with everything under warranty. We never have to go inside the CPU!

    Even if you walk the aisles of Best Buy, it's amusing to see that the desktop aisles have dwindled to almost nothing, while the selection of all-in-ones have quadrupled! And with the into of Win8, now you have exciting new all-in-one form factors such as the Sony Vaio Tap 21, Dell XPS 18, HP Rove 20... basically all-in-one/tablet hybrids.

    Unless you have an expensive or unique monitor, or the need to regularly upgrade internal components, all-in-ones trump small form factor desktops every time. Many people buying computing devices today are not hard core users. That's why tablets sell so well, despite not being upgradable, and what is a tablet other than a 10" all-in-one computer? :)
    • re:

      Most of the all in ones I've seen are puny i3s. Also, they're expensive. On the plus side, they're touchscreens. But they wouldn't work for me because I need dual monitors. One might be right for my wife though, except that's she's fallen in love with the Nokia 2520 I picked up for her and is wondering if she even needs a "regular" computer. Go figure.
      Sir Name
      • re:

        Sir Name, I just got a quote from for an HP ProOne 600 G1

        It doesn't come with a built-in touch screen, but it does have a DisplayPort for a 2nd monitor. I also configured it with an i5 CPU @ 2.9 GHz, quad core. All-in-ones are more expensive than similarly powered desktops, I will admit. I suppose the premium comes from packing all those components in a frame not much larger than the case of an LCD monitor. For a firm with just one IT staffer, hardware like this makes IT administration tasks much easier.

        Stereo Speakers
        1 GB Ethernet port
        Wifi N
        500 GB HD (7200 rpm)
        21.5" 1080p display
        8 GB Ram
        Win 8.1 Pro (with Win 7 Pro downgrade installed)
        Wireless Mouse
        Wireless Keyboard
        3 Year, Onsite Next Business Day Warranty

        With my corporate discount, I've gotten it down to $999 so far.